Australia faces an uncertain future as it goes to the polls on May 21 with parliament on a knife edge and a brutal campaign to come.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the election date on Sunday, down in the polls but very much not out of the contest.
The Liberal-National Coalition has exactly the number of seats it needs to govern in its own right and Labor needs to pick up eight to form government.
A close election could throw the country into chaos as if neither side wins a majority, there will be a hung parliament and independents have already said they will refuse to do a deal to support either party.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Sunday to announce the May 21 federal election (pictured)
With the PM unpopular with voters, the campaign is expected to be bloody and full of personal attacks by both sides.
Mr Morrison kicked off the 41-day campaign with with a swipe at Labor and Opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
‘This election is a choice… between a strong economy and a Labor opposition that would weaken it,’ he said.
‘It’s a choice between an economic recovery that is leading the world and a Labor opposition that would weaken it and risk it.’
To make sense of it all, here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know about the upcoming election.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (centre) purchases some produce during a tour of the Orange Grove Markets at Leichhardt in Sydney on Saturday
The LNP will focus on the low unemployment rate while Labour Party will contribute $50 million across Australia info the TAFE Technology Fund if elected (pictured: Anthony Albanese at Bentley TAFE campus in Perth)
WHAT’S HAPPENED ELECTORALLY SINCE 2019?
* Redistribution: WA has lost a seat (Stirling, held by the Liberals) and Victoria has gained a seat (Hawke, which is notionally a Labor gain).
* By-elections: Groom was retained by the LNP. Eden-Monaro was retained by Labor.
* Hughes MP Craig Kelly (elected as a Liberal in 2019) joined Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.
* Labor changed leader from Bill Shorten to Anthony Albanese.
* At state and territory elections, Labor retained government in NT, ACT, Queensland and WA, and the Liberals were returned in Tasmania. Liberals lost government to Labor in SA.
Clive Palmer, Chairman of The United Australia Party, interacts with his wife Anna, after delivering his National Press Club address at the National Press Club on Thursday (pictured)
WHAT’S NEEDED FOR LABOR TO WIN?
Labor holds 68 seats but with the new seat of Hawke starts the election with a notional 69 seats.
It needs 76 seats for a majority, a net gain of seven. But if the Liberal-National coalition loses four seats to Labor, the opposition will hold 73 seats to 72 coalition and will be able to negotiate with the crossbench on forming a minority government as it did in 2010.
WHAT’S NEEDED FOR THE COALITION TO WIN?
If the Liberal-National coalition can retain a net 76 seats it can retain power.
A net loss of just one seat (requiring a swing of less than half a per cent) puts it into minority and will require negotiations with the crossbench for minority government.
Jobs and the economy is the focus for the Coalition (pictured: Scott Morrison along with Federal Member for Robertson Lucy Wicks (right) speaks to apprentice workers during a visit to the Crossmuller factory in Somersby on Thursday)
WHERE ARE THE PARTIES BASED?
The Labor campaign will be based in Surry Hills, Sydney.
While the Coalition campaign will be based in Brisbane.
WHAT RECORDS COULD THE ELECTION SET?
Defeat for Labor will be the fourth successive loss and mean the ALP has won majority government only once in the past 10 elections.
If Scott Morrison wins, he will be the first incumbent prime minister to win two elections in a row since John Howard in 2004. Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull were all knocked off by their parties.
If he loses, that would mean five successive prime ministers have failed to be re-elected.
A minority parliament would be the first since 2010 and only the third since 1943.
If Mr Morrison is re-elected, he will be the first incumbent prime minister to win two elections in a row since John Howard in 2004. Rudd, Gillard (pictured), Abbott and Turnbull were all knocked off by their parties
Liberals – gain Hughes (independent), Gilmore (Labor), Lyons (Labor) and lose Stirling due to the redistribution.
Labor – gain Pearce, Hasluck, Swan, Chisholm, Bass, Braddon (Liberal seats) and gain Hawke, the new Victorian seat.
KEY ISSUES AHEAD OF THE FEDERAL ELECTION:
COVID-19. Scott Morrison has been labelled ‘SloMo’ over delays in the vaccine rollout, and the ‘prime minister for NSW’ over his attitude towards the states’ handling of the pandemic.
But will voters credit him for Australia’s internationally-low rate of severe illness and death? Or will voters hand Anthony Albanese the job of leading the post-pandemic health and economic recovery?
Howard Springs (pictured) was one of the country’s main quarantine spots during the Covid pandemic
BUDGET AND ECONOMY. The jobless rate has remained low despite the pandemic and the economy is on a sound footing.
But under-employment is high and the rate of casual and insecure work is of concern to many Australians.
And government debt is at unprecedented levels with no prospect of being repaid any time soon. Inflation has many concerned, with an interest rate hike looming.
TAXES. Scott Morrison insists he will drive down taxes on workers and businesses and the coalition is best placed to keep taxes low over the long term.
Labor’s immediate priority is dealing with multinational tax avoidance, but the coalition is seeking to convince voters a Labor budget would contain hidden nasties.
CLIMATE. The coalition and Labor are committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Labor has a more ambitious medium-term target than the coalition.
The issue has effectively been neutralised as a debating point, but a coalition campaign over Labor pushing up power prices can be expected.
Independent candidates backed by Climate 200 are campaigning on doing more than either of the major parties.
The Northern NSW town of Byron Bay (pictured) was flooded on March 30 with nearby Lismore and Ballina submerged twice in a month
House of Representatives (151 members)
23 Liberal National Party of Queensland
43 Liberal Party of Australia
10 The Nationals
(76 in total for coalition government)
68 Australian Labor Party
1 Australian Greens (Adam Bandt)
1 Centre Alliance (Rebekha Sharkie)
1 United Australia Party (Craig Kelly)
3 Independent (Zali Steggall, Andrew Wilkie, Helen Haines)
1 Katter’s Australian Party (Bob Katter)
BORDERS. The coalition says Labor’s soft stance on border protection will reopen the people smuggling trade and result in deaths at sea and a major cost blowout on detention centres.
Labor says it supports boat turnbacks and offshore processing but will do so in a more humane way.
HEALTH. The coalition has boosted hospital funding for the states and territories. Labor says it will restore funding to the system and the coalition can’t be trusted with Medicare.
EDUCATION. The school funding debate seems to have settled. But Labor argues universities have been left to die by the coalition, especially as the international student market dried up during the pandemic.
NATIONAL SECURITY. The coalition says it is best placed to handle terrorism and other threats to national security and is more willing than Labor to enact laws to give greater powers to police and intelligence agencies.
Labor says national security is a bipartisan priority, but wants to ensure there are proper checks and balances in any new powers.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS. The coalition is taking a hands-off approach when it comes to the Fair Work Commission’s decision-making, which now has more employer-focused personnel.
It also warns of Labor being dictated to by the unions. Labor says the existing system needs reform as workers are not benefiting from economic growth, in terms of higher wages, and casuals are being exploited.
INTEGRITY. The government has long-promised a Commonwealth Integrity Commission but argues Labor stood in its way. Labor says a national integrity commission with teeth is needed.
The debate has given impetus to independent candidates targeting Liberal seats.
2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (left) and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Brittany Higgins (right) are greeted by Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (centre) as they prepare to address the National Press Club in Canberra on February 9
WOMEN. Scott Morrison was forced into doing more to address women’s safety when Brittany Higgins went public with an allegation of being raped in a minister’s office, and Christian Porter defended an accusation of historic assault which he firmly denies.
Labor argues it is best placed to deal with women’s safety and empowerment and is more committed than the coalition to running female candidates in winnable seats.
ECONOMIC HURDLES DURING ELECTION CAMPAIGN:
ECONOMY. The Morrison government can boast an economy that has recovered in leaps and bounds from the 2020 recession and stands 3.4 per cent larger than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic as of the December quarter.
March quarter economic growth figures are not released until June, but retail trade data – a key part of economic activity – are released for March on May 4 and for the March quarter on May 10.
The latter will give a board guide to the impact from Omicron, floods and cost of living pressures on spending.
LABOUR MARKET. The jobs recovery has been the stand-out feature of Australia’s rebound from recession.
After hitting a 22-year high of 7.4 per cent during the steep economic downturn in mid-2020, the unemployment rate stands at four per cent, its lowest in nearly 14 years.
Both the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury are forecasting an unemployment rate of 3.75 per cent this year, the lowest level since the early 1970s. Labour force figures for March are due on April 14 and for the month of April on May 19.
The unemployment rate is at a 14-year low but inflation and rising costs are making cash stretch less (pictured: a Sydney barista in March)
INFLATION. Cost of living will likely be a key focus for the election campaign given heated inflation pressures, and debate over the government’s temporary support package for households in the March budget.
The rate of annual inflation was already running at 3.5 per cent at the end of 2021 before the impact of the Ukrainian war sent petrol prices soaring to record levels above $2 a litre as global oil prices increased.
The consumer price index for the March quarter on on April 27 will be a reminder of the cost of living pressures households are facing, with economists predicting annual inflation could peak at around five per cent.
WAGES GROWTH. The missing link in the economy’s recovery remains a notable improvement in wages growth. As of the December quarter the key wage price index was running at an annual rate of 2.3 per cent and well shy of the rate of inflation, meaning wages are going backwards.
Treasury is forecasting a turnaround in wages growth in coming years due to low unemployment but has repeatedly missed the mark in its previous predictions.
The wage price index for the March quarter is due on May 18, but will more than likely still show wages lagging inflation.
A booming housing market caused by record low inflation rates has seen property prices rise (pictured: a Melbourne house auction)
INTEREST RATES. One saving grace for the government as its debt grew substantially due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been record-low interest rates.
However, the RBA is expected to start lifting the cash rate this year as the pace of inflation and jobs growth exceed expectations.
Some economists see the May 3 board meeting as ‘live’ in terms of a move in the cash rate from a record low 0.1 per cent following the March quarter inflation figures.
However, while an increase during an election campaign is unlikely, it didn’t stop the central bank moving during the 2007 campaign – a poll that saw the end of John Howard’s reign as prime minister.
CONFIDENCE. The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index will provide a blow-by-blow account of mood swings among Australians in response to the campaign and economic events in the run-up to election night.
The budget helped to steady confidence and tame inflation concerns to a degree with the assistance of its cost-of-living package and falling petrol prices.